“I get nervous when he crosses the halfway line” is what I can hear from a Spurs fan behind me, but his concern is clearly misplaced. The scoreboard on the North Stand shows that’s there half an hour of the game left and the truth is Tottenham have the game and possibly the last 16 tie against Inter Milan sewn up just minutes earlier courtesy of Jan Vertonghen’s header from a corner delivered by the left boot of one Gareth Bale.
It’s Scott Parker that the supporter mentioned above is referring to. The defensive midfielder whose job is to protect the centre back pairing of Gallas and Vertonghen who have been impeccable against a lacklustre Inter Milan side. The Spurs faithful will have to get used to seeing the England international more involved further up the pitch because this is something that Andre Villas Boas has sought to change and could be exactly what the player and club needs.
The official records will show that his midfield partner Moussa Dembele was chosen as the standout player that evening but those present at the Lane will have debated whilst exiting the ground and queuing up to get into the tube stations whether Parker who enjoyed one of his best performances in a Spurs shirt was more worthy of the accolade.
Stramaccioni’s plan from the outset it seems was to sit deep and contain Spurs but the intensity and fluency that AVB’s side played with did not give the Nerazurri an opportunity to settle with Parker embodying all that was good and so devastating about the performance in the early stages of the game. With Dembele alongside him the Belgian who continues to impress the more minutes he gets on the pitch shared the duties of carrying the ball to support the attacking quartet of Bale, Lennon, Siggurdson and Defoe.
Under Harry Redknapp, Parker was the man entrusted to break up play and give the ball quickly to the players that the manager believed could cause teams the most damage. This has not radically changed for Parker but the role perhaps undermined the ability of a player who at Charlton and West Ham proved that he can contribute more in the final third.
Parker’s more dynamic movement is clearly a result of the Portuguese manager’s intentions to apply the football philosophy that served him so well at Porto and underpinned his successes domestically and on the European stage. The belief that from the midfield up, all players should be constantly moving, creating imbalances to unsettle the opposition making it harder to contain and keep a good shape.
At Porto it was Fernando playing in the Parker role and just as the England international did under Redknapp, the Brazilian rarely ventured beyond the halfway line under Jesualdo Ferreira the man that AVB replaced. When Fernando broke forward Joao Moutinho was there to plug the gap and now Dembele mirrors that same responsibility for Villas Boas at Spurs.
It’s subtle changes like Parker’s more involved role that continue to highlight the value of the manager’s meticulous approach to the job and his ability to tweak elements of the team that have been the norm for so long so effectively. It’s just another step towards the manager’s overall vision for how he wants his team to play football. So for the fans that get all jittery when Parker crosses the halfway line just remember, it’s all part of AVB’s master plan and he is not doing too bad so far.